Think Mobile — Not a Bug, It’s a Feature

Handmark CEO Paul Reddick shared his tips on what to think about when building a mobile app on a panel called Not a Bug, It’s a Feature at mediabistro.com‘s Think Mobile conference at Comix in New York Thursday afternoon.

Describing what Handmark does, Reddick said, “I’m the guy who tells you that we build across all platforms, and we do it well. We are those guys who cover platforms for those of you who are not going to have 12 in-house developers to build.”

On the market in general, Reddick pointed out that, “As the 3G networks roll out, the smart phones roll out,” adding that Yankee Group projects the U.S. smart-phone market at 160 million over the next four years, that 25 percent of people currently get news via mobile devices (Pew), and that 60 percent of smart-phone users carry their devices at all times (Knowledge Networks). “You do need to go where your customers are going, and your customers are increasingly going mobile,” he said.

Reddick stressed time sensitivity as an important factor, saying:

It’s not OK to publish your periodical once per month on mobile and think people are going to come back on a frequent basis.

I don’t want to be the guy who goes out here on break and doesn’t know that Tiger Woods fell down on the first tee. They really want to be in the know.

Speed is key. People are impatient on the Internet, but they’re even more impatient when they’re mobile.

On apps that are used for reference, such as Zagat and Oxford University Press, Reddick said, “It’s nice to know you have access to this in your pocket, even if you don’t have network access.”

Convenience is an important factor, as well, with Reddick adding, “People may be willing to make trade-offs in terms of form factor.”


In terms of which technologies and platforms to embrace, he said:

Have a WAP site, but you cannot stop there. It’s really just not compelling enough.

Don’t be dreaming of the nirvana of the perfect wireless network.

I’m a strong believer that apps are here to stay. One of the things about having an application is that you can take more ownership of your brand.

If you own the IP (intellectual property), you also own the obligation to continue to update as BlackBerry launches new features. I think people would be really hard-pressed to keep up with these internal tech teams at media companies.

Pay attention to what Google is doing with the next Android iteration, pay attention to what Apple is doing, and build it in.

On how to secure distribution for an app, Reddick said:

Go to your base. You’re media companies. You have a huge audience. Scream out to it.

You want to get promoted in stores. That’s a difficult one: How do you know people? How do you get promoted? The game has changed significantly. One of the key things (with the Apple App Store) is the billing and how easy they make it for you to spend money. Google has a 24-hour-return policy, no questions asked.

I would focus some time on developing relationships with Google and Apple, because they’re going to be players for a long time.

On the subject of social networking, both in terms of the way Handmark uses it and the way it builds those capabilities into apps, he said, “We have more than 100,000 Twitter followers. We let people know when applications are coming out, and we get a lot of hits out of that.” He also stressed the inclusion of social-network integration, sharing, and links to online content, print content, and favorites.

Finally, Reddick sought to answer the key question: Why do this? He cited extending and building brands, audience, and loyalty, as well as making money via advertising and cross-selling, and said:

If you’ve got something really cool, you might want to tease people with it and take it to a premium model from there.

You have to think about whether you want to pay a lot of money up front to have people work on one platform or multiple platforms and own the IP, or whether you want to work with someone who owns the IP and updates and continually develops it.

I can know that you’re between 17-35, you’re Latino, and you’re at Think Mobile right now, but by the time I’ve narrowed that down, I’ve got two people. You can’t sell to two people.

You want to build applications now. You don’t want to miss the mark.